Sindh seeks FIA help to stop spread of ‘fake’ news about coronavirus

Published March 5, 2020
Pakistani health personnel take part in a drill as a preventative measures during an emergency of coronavirus outbreak. — AP
Pakistani health personnel take part in a drill as a preventative measures during an emergency of coronavirus outbreak. — AP

KARACHI: As the federal and provincial authorities claim to have been taking every possible measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Pakistan, the authorities in Sindh have sought intervention from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to trace those who are spreading “fake and unsubstantial news” through social media about “scores” of positive cases of the virus in Karachi, triggering panic and fear in the people.

A request from the Sindh additional secretary was made to the interior secretary in a letter seeking the role of the FIA against individuals and groups who were deliberately spreading fake information and orchestrating a propaganda campaign apparently to create fear in the people and destabilise the situation in the province while maligning the provincial government.

“As you are aware that only five cases of the coronavirus have been identified in Pakistan, including two in Sindh,” said the Sindh additional secretary’s letter to the interior secretary. “On the contrary, some individuals/groups are posting fake and unsubstantial news in social media about scores of positive coronavirus cases being identified at the Agha Khan University Hospital and the Dow University of Health Sciences, Karachi. Both of the institutions have debunked such rumours.”

The letter from the Sindh government emerged amid a deluge of information mainly on social media about the newly discovered virus in China which has now become a global challenge. The “fake news”, as mentioned in the letter of the Sindh additional chief secretary, does not only target the situation in Karachi or the rest of Sindh, but it has also created quite a stir at the national level.

Only on Tuesday, a fake circular from the interior ministry made rounds on social media announcing closure of all government and private institutions for next two weeks as a precautionary measure in the wake of the coronavirus. The situation had turned so disturbing that it pushed the interior ministry to deny it through a statement and order an inquiry into the matter.

The Sindh government wants a proper criminal investigation to unearth the motive and people behind the campaign.

“Unfortunately, some elements are circulating false and fabricated news and rumours related to coronavirus viz closure of schools in Sindh unto April 1, 2020, an exaggerated number of coronavirus positive cases and a fake press release attributed to the ministry of interior about the closure of federal and provincial offices from 4th March to 16th March, 2020.”

The letter said that the provincial government’s request to involve the FIA emerged after Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had taken serious notice of such fabricated news on social media, which was creating panic, uncertainty and unrest in the masses.

“Forgoing, it is requested that FIA, Cyber Crime [wing] may be directed to take action against the persons responsible for spreading disinformation about coronavirus on social media,” added the letter.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2020

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